In this article, we are going to see the causes and effects of soil erosion and the ways to prevent it.
Soil erosion is the main threat to the agricultural environment:
Soil erosion is a major threat to sustainability and productivity with knock-on effects on the climate crisis and food security. This is particularly true for places most at risk of erosion, such as watersheds in Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and more. In these areas, protection against soil erosion through sustainable land management can solve a multitude of problems. Here’s a more in-depth look at the causes and solutions of soil erosion:
Why is soil erosion such a big problem?
Soil is a natural resource that may seem robust and endless, but in fact, it is the fragile product of thousands of years of formation. The top layer of soil, which is closer to the surface of the earth, contains essential nutrients for crops. It is this layer of soil that is endangered by wind and water erosion. Soil erosion reduces soil fertility, which can affect crop yields badly. It also sends soil-laden water downstream, which can create heavy layers of sediment that prevent streams and rivers from flowing smoothly and can eventually lead to flooding. Once soil erosion occurs, it is more likely to occur again. This is a global problem. The soil is eroding faster than it is forming, rendering the land unsuitable for agriculture, a particularly serious concern in a world where the population is expected to exceed 9 billion by mid-century. Smarter land management is a must.
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How does soil erosion affect climate change?
Erosion degrades the land, which means it can support fewer plants that can absorb carbon dioxide that warms the climate. Soils themselves could potentially sequester enough greenhouse gases in one year to equal about 5% of all annual human-made GHG emissions. Better land management can help keep soils intact so they can produce more carbon-absorbing vegetation. This is already happening in China, where the Grain-for-Green project in the Yellow River basin conserved soil and water and reduced carbon emissions. On the other hand, uncontrolled climate change can worsen erosion. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that when grown without conservation practices, the soil is eroding up to 100 times faster than it is forming. The risk of erosion will be even greater in the future due to changes in temperature caused by emissions, with consequent decreases in agricultural production, the value of land, and human health.
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What are the impacts of soil erosion?
We are already seeing the risks of soil erosion around the world. The deadly floods in Jakarta earlier this year are a good example. Eroded upstream sediments clogged Jakarta’s rivers and canals, causing them to overflow. Similar erosion-related floods have occurred in many other countries, including Colombia, the Philippines, India, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Soil erosion is not just an environmental problem; it also causes huge losses to the economy. One study estimated global economic losses from soil erosion to be around $ 8 billion, due to reduced soil fertility, decreased crop yields and increased water use. Another study showed that soil erosion in Sleman, a district located in Java, costs 17% of a farmer’s average net income per hectare of agricultural land. America’s agriculture sector loses about $ 44 billion per year due to erosion. This value includes the loss of productivity, along with sedimentation and water contamination. The lost farm income is estimated at $ 100 million per year.
What solutions exist to prevent soil erosion?
Use soil-friendly agricultural practices
It is necessary to implement terrace farming to make hillside farming manageable. The terraces prevent erosion and allow more water to flow to the crops. Also, hillside agricultural fields need full crop cover to help keep the soil in place. This can be achieved by inter-cropping, which means growing two crops together in the same field, such as planting rows of corn or soybeans between rows of oil palms. For smallholders, agro-forestry systems in which a diverse set of crops, including trees, are grown together can be effective. Access to manure improves soil organic matter, which inhibits erosion. Finally, alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted crops improve soil structure and reduce erosion at the same time.
Offer incentives for land management
Although the science of sustainable land management has been gaining support, the socio-economic context often makes implementation difficult. Sustainable land practices must be financially viable for farmers. Erosion measures cost an average of $ 500 per hectare, a considerable investment for a farmer. Governments and banks must help farmers gain access to credit and support to implement erosion prevention. This is not only good business for the farmer but for the entire community. The cost of erosion prevention is much lower than the price of restoring and rehabilitating the land, which one source estimated between $ 1,500 and $ 2,000 per hectare. Another source found that it could reach $ 15,221 per hectare.
Prevention and rehabilitation
The key to managing and reducing soil erosion is to rehabilitate already damaged land, stop further degradation, and put erosion prevention measures at the heart of land management policy. In this way, we can help prevent hunger and mitigate the climate crisis.